We live in a world that is dominated by ‘individualism.’ We see it on Facebook, Twitter, in our daily newspapers, politics, even in sporting clubs. You listen to TV interviews and much of it is about ‘I’, ‘me’ and ‘myself’! Yes, people may disguise it by speaking about what is good for the country or for the sporting club, but so often is driven by what is good for ‘me.’
Unfortunately, this ‘individualism’ can easily creep into the church. One of my ‘pet-hates’ is hearing the first person, singular, pronoun, used too often in worship services. In fact, some who lead Christian worship services will open the service with a corporate prayer rather than inviting people to have a personal, silent, individual prayer for they see the worship service as a body of believers together.
Another area where we see this ‘individualism’ coming through in worship is in our selection of praise songs and hymns. Yes, it is sometimes unavoidable when we recite or sing a ‘creedal’ hymn together, but so many ‘new’ songs and some ‘old’ favourites are all about ‘I’ and we need to watch out for it.
Still another area where ‘individualism’ is creeping into worship is in our prayers. ‘I’, ‘me’ or ‘myself’ shouldn’t be used when we lead in prayer during a worship service. There is biblical warrant to suggest this and it is found in the Lord’s prayer. You will notice that Jesus doesn’t begin that prayer by saying, “My father in heaven…” but uses the phrase “Our Father in heaven.” In fact, on closer inspection, Jesus doesn’t say, ‘I, me’, or ‘myself’ anywhere throughout this prayer. The use of the first-person singular pronoun is completely missing.
When we are at worship, or a group Bible study, or some other Christian meeting where more than one is gathered, we are not only in relationship with our Saviour God but also with each other. In fact, we are saved into Christ’s body, the church. Therefore, the use of the first-person, singular pronoun is inappropriate in such settings. Hence, in these settings, we pray, “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be Your name. Your kingdom come, Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil…”
Dr Albert Mohler writes that “one of our greatest problems and deficiencies in prayer is that we begin with our own concerns and our own petitions without regard for our brothers and sisters. Many of us falter in prayer because we begin with the wrong word: “I” instead of “our.”
Is there ever a time when the first-person, singular, pronoun can be used? Sure, there is. There is no better time, and perhaps the only time, than when we are alone with God in prayer in our inner room. That’s the time to pray, “My father in heaven… JZ.